When former Vice President Al Gore hosted "Saturday Night Live" in December 2002 he appeared in a skit that compared his vice presidential selection process from two years before to the dating reality TV show "The Bachelor." In one scene Gore appeared in a hot tub with a faux Joe Lieberman, both of them shirtless, drinking champagne, arms locked, romance in the air. Anyone then looking for clues to see if Gore would run for president in 2004 probably had no trouble discerning that an exploratory committee was not in the cards.
Almost five years later, Gore still says he has no plans to run for president, but his latest book, "The Assault On Reason," is so searingly critical of the Bush administration it's hard to discern what his plans may be.
On the one hand, Gore has written an un-nostalgic look back at the previous six years that lays out his case as to how the world might look today had the chads fallen another way -- a world where U.S. troops would not be fighting in Iraq, Abu Ghraib would just be a town's name and the nation would have been better prepared for Hurricane Katrina, global warming, and, yes, perhaps even Sept. 11.
But on the other hand, "The Assault On Reason" is an assault on President Bush, 308 pages of professorially rendered, liberal red meat that shuns the cautious language employed by any politician standing to the right of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and the left of Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.
"I'm not a candidate and this is not a political book, this is not a candidate book," Gore told Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America" Monday. "It's about that there are cracks in the foundation of American democracy that have to be fixed."
In the book, Gore is accusatory, passionate, and angry. He begins discussing the president by accusing him of sharing President Richard Nixon's unprincipled hunger for power -- and the book proceeds to get less complimentary from there. While Gore stops short of flatly calling for the impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, he certainly gives the impression that in his view such a move would be well deserved. He calls the president a lawbreaker, a liar and a man with the blood of thousands of innocent lives on his hands.
Most of Gore's ire stems from, not surprisingly, the war in Iraq, a war that Gore opposed from the beginning. Bush, he writes, "has exposed Americans abroad and Americans in every U.S. town and city to a greater danger of attack because of his arrogance and willfulness."
"History will surely judge America's decision to invade and occupy (Iraq)…as a decision that was not only tragic but absurd," Gore writes.
"The Assault On Reason" begins as an academic discourse about the one-sided, corporate-controlled television medium with no interactivity.
Gore argues that television not only creates a dynamic that runs contrary to Thomas Jefferson's desire for a "well-informed citizenry" but lulls viewers in a partially immobilized state and allows unreasoned communicators to sell false bills of goods, such as, say, that there was a connection between the Sept. 11 hijackers and Saddam Hussein.
As an example of the failed democratic conversation, Gore said Monday that prior to the war in Iraq, "if we had a full debate and a full airing of the pros and cons of the invasion that brought out the fact that Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with attacking us on 9/11 then we would have been much less likely to have these troops trapped over there now in the midst of a civil war."
But in the book Gore sheds his inner Marshall McLuhan for his inner Michael Moore, saying that if "Bush and Cheney actually believed in the linkage (between Iraq and al Qaeda) that they asserted -- in spite of all the evidence to the contrary presented to them contemporaneously -- that would by itself in light of the available evidence, make them genuinely unfit to lead our nation. On the other hand, if they knew the truth and lied, massively and repeatedly, isn't that worse? Are they too gullible or too dishonest?"
(Gore said Monday that the 2006 midterm successes of the Democrats were not an example of democracy's conversation failing, but "a belated response to some of the perceived mistakes of the current administration. But I think the threshold for change was way too high.")
Gore writes that since "Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack…then that means the president took us to war when he didn't have to and that over 3,000 American service members have been killed…unnecessarily."
When asked if that meant U.S. troops had died in vain, Gore said Monday that "those who serve our country are honored in memory" but that the issue is "there is hardly anybody left in America…who doesn't believe that it was a terrible mistake to invade a country that didn't attack us. But all of the evidence necessary to make that judgment before we invaded was available…We have been making a series of really important, really big mistakes, and the question is how can we reinvigorate the role of 'We the People' in American democracy so that we're part of the conversation and so that those (in power)…are listening to reason, are looking at the facts and not brushing past them."
It seems likely that even if Gore opts not to run for president in 2008, this book may serve to drive presidential candidates, including Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former Sen. John Edwards, even further to the left, both in rhetoric and substance. The former Tennessee congressman and senator accuses his former colleagues on Capitol Hill of complicity with what he sees as nefarious deeds committed by the Bush administration. The book opens with Gore wondering why Senate Democrats were so silent during the debate before going to war in Iraq and toward the end faults them for being so silent about the administration's warrantless surveillance program.
He doesn't assail any Democrats by name. Bush, however, he names. Over and over.
"President Bush has repeatedly violated the law for six years," Gore charges, regarding the warrantless surveillance program. He argues that the president does not need the enhanced domestic surveillance powers he has sought and received, often in secret, but that the competent use of the information already available would have been sufficient. Such as, for instance, the fact that Sept. 11 terrorists Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almidhar were already on a State Department/INS watch list.
He does not flatly state that Sept. 11 would not have occurred during a Gore administration. But, he writes, "Whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable, it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuses. In the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes."
Then, using a study from the Markle Foundation, Gore shows how better and quicker analysis -- not the increased data sought by the Bush administration -- would have led to other hijackers. Salem Alhazmi, then Mohammed Atta and Marwan al Shehhi. And so on.
But instead, Gore writes, incompetence rules the day and Bush has pushed for Orwellian powers a la "1984."
What might cause some to speculate that Gore isn't ruling out a third White House run (he also campaigned as a centrist "New Democrat" in 1988) is the cautious wording he uses about two claims against the administration, sensitive ones regarding Bush's religious views and whether or not the war in Iraq was a war for oil. Gore raises them, but even among his many incendiary charges, doesn't claim them as his own.
As for what now? Gore says the nation, indeed the world, is at a fork in the road. Gore calls for the United States to rejoin the international community and lead the war on crises involving global warming, water, terrorism and pandemics such as HIV/AIDS. He calls for a repeal of the Patriot Act, and for the Bush administration to disclose all of its interrogation policies. He wants more transparency in political TV commercials and an expediting of the shift from television toward the Internet as a method of communication.
Gore told ABC News Monday he's focused not on running for president but on solving the climate crisis, but "in order to solve the climate crisis, I'm convinced that we're going to have to address these cracks in the foundation of democracy, these basic problems with the way we're approaching decision-making."
After Random House published 200,000 copies of "Putting People First: How We Can All Change America" -- the soporific campaign tome purportedly written by then-Gov. Bill Clinton and then-Sen. Al Gore -- the ill-fated re-election campaign of then-President George H.W. Bush filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission. Republicans alleged that the book deal constituted an illegal corporate contribution to the Democratic ticket, which didn't directly profit financially from the book though the publicity certainly didn't hurt. How quaint that book must now seem to those Republicans.